Residents of Princes Town and Debe will be familiar with the sight of Shazad "Candy Man" Hoosein with his daughter, Aliesha Serenity, perched on his shoulders as he sells his sticky-sweet confection to gleeful children and their parents.
The Princes Town father said with a laugh that he carried his daughter on his shoulders from his hometown to Matilda Junction up to the age of five. But as she got bigger he would hold her hand and they would walk slowly to their destination.
The single parent's post on Facebook about the travails he faced and the challenges he continues to experience raising Serenity—whose mother left the week before she turned six months—giving up his job to take care of her, and doing without to provide for her needs went viral on social media and has touched many people. Serenity will be turning nine later this year.
The down-to-earth Hoosein said he was shocked at the impact and the overwhelming expression of support, especially from mothers.
He would eat oats and water for months denying himself to sacrifice for his daughter, his priority. Sometimes he would only make $50 for the day and he had to buy milk, food, and clothes for her, not to mention pay the rent.
Hoosein is also on public assistance and has Keratoconus, a condition where the cornea—the clear, dome-shaped front surface of his eyes—thins and gradually bulge outward into a cone shape causing blurred vision, sensitivity to light and glare, making daily tasks like reading or driving difficult.
Besides not having $6,000 to perform the surgery last year, he has decided to forego the operation against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, since it would entail him staying indoors up to eight weeks after the procedure, going back and forth to the clinic, plus it would further inconvenience him as he has to look after his daughter and pay a $2,000-a-month rent.
Speaking to Sunday Guardian, Hoosein said "Serenity's mom left the week before she turned six months in 2013. Before I put my candy rack on a skateboard, I used to walk with it in one hand and carried her with the other and switched hands when one hand became tired.
"I packed all her necessities, cereal, milk, bottle, pampers. The security in some fast food places, workers I knew allowed me to change her in the restrooms, sometimes the security personnel stayed by the door not allowing anyone in until he came out which he appreciated.
"When she got older, Serenity used to ride on my shoulders, at that time I had my hair in a ponytail, she used to hold on to it and pretend she was riding a horse."
Hoosein's vision started to deteriorate when he was in trade school doing an automotive technician programme. "I had to leave the work in 2008. Glasses cannot fix my condition, I'm wearing scleral contact lenses (large-diameter gas permeable contact lenses specially designed to vault over the entire corneal surface and rest on the "white" of the eye (sclera) right now."
He said the contacts were not 100 per cent effective since he has double vision and cannot discern people's features. He can differentiate dollar bills up to 6 pm since the glare from streetlights and vehicle headlights are like fireworks to him and he also cannot take the chance to drive.
Hoosein had to wear cataract sunglasses during daylight to escort Serenity to the school bus before schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and even to water his plants.
The single father from Manahambre said he bumps into people or escapes from near misses with cars walking on the road without pavements. It bothers him bumping into a mannequin and saying sorry while people are staring at him.
Hoosein, who also enters 103FM's pepper eating competitions to earn extra money, said after leaving the automotive technician programme, he took up security employment working night shifts, coming home to rest for three hours only removing his contact lenses for this period, then going out in the morning to sell candy to make extra money to provide for his daughter.
Over time the three hours of rest without having to wear his contacts were taking a toll on his eyes.
Hoosein told his supervisor, who was understanding about his situation, that he wanted to just concentrate on selling cotton candy to be more available to Serenity and be closer to her when she was in school for emergencies. He eventually stopped his security work in 2018.
Hoosein explained that even with the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services' Public Assistance grant of $1,550, he still has to add $500 for the rent, his daughter has eczema and needs medication, and he has to buy medication for his contact lenses, cleaning filling and condition solutions costing $112, $70 and $68 respectively.
He goes to the grocery after and gets what his daughter needs while his food card is still being processed. Many times he usually ends up paying rent late, but the landlord has been accommodating and does not stress, telling him to just call him when he has the money.
When asked what he wanted for Serenity, Hoosein replied he wanted to try and build his house first before he did surgery or before he dies, so he would not have rent to pay and his child would not have to wonder how they will get by as well as have an inheritance.
He said his mother gave him a parcel of land in Princes Town but he was fighting to get work started on it as most of his money went to paying rent.
Hoosein stressed that he was not the type of person to ask people for anything however if he gets help with material to build his house he would be grateful. He admitted that he did not know how long he will have his sight or what would happen after the surgeries but he does not want to live or die half-blind.
For people wishing to help Hoosein and Serenity call: 315-5961.